No boundaries: A free spirit at the stove
Whoever dines at Stefan Wiesner’s “Gasthof Rössli”, enters an incomparable gourmet wonderland. It is a trip for the senses, but mostly a trip back to nature, to the elements and our beginnings. As Wiesner documents in his “Avantgardistischen Naturküche” (Avant-garde Natural Cuisine), even the universe can be cooked up, if you do it just right.
His hat is pulled down over his face, his knife in his pocket. At first glance, Stefan Wiesner, 52 years old, looks more like a cowboy than a chef. But whoever goes rambling around in the woods and outdoors as much as he does, needs the right gear, no doubt about it. It is an unassuming village pub that is on the main road in the little town of Eschholzmatt-Marbach (Canton of Lucerne). No one stops by there for a business lunch or just drops in for an aperitif. This is not a place you stumble across, but a place where you book a table weeks in advance. Earlier, when Wiesner’s parents still ran the “Gasthof Rössli”, it was a hotel. Today Wiesner, awarded with 17 Gault Millau points and 1 Michelin star, makes it the home of his “avant-garde natural cuisine”. `What?!‘ you may ask. You have read right. What is on offer here is far from what guests are normally served in a restaurant. Wiesner’s cuisine is one that inspires, that stimulates and that pleads for an open approach towards nature. For the best possible taste, the trained chef has been experimenting with the apparently odd and essentially weird for more than 25 years now. He refines meat with formic acid, cooks wood, coal and stones, spices things up with rusty nails, ashes, gold, minerals, stalagmites and sound-infused salt („Klangsalz“). Always in the name of perfect taste, of course. “I didn’t learn this type of cuisine anywhere. It was purely self-taught. This way of cooking came out of my life. It is a life-cuisine, portraying all facets from poverty to annoyance to joy,” explains the 52-year-old. His outdoor treasures are kept neatly in dozens of jars, baskets and canisters. Everything labeled, so that he always has it all directly at hand in his taste lab. But how do you come up with the idea of cooking with stones or wood? Curiosity is what drives the free spirit. “Some years ago, we dumped some wood cuttings in the barn behind our house, so that it would be warmer there. Whenever I went into the barn, it always smelled so wonderful, just like vanilla. And I thought, this is fantastic. I took a handful of the pieces of wood and cooked them,” Wiesner recalls. The result tasted so great that it made him curious. There had to be more. So he got more involved with the various types of wood, began experimenting, fiddling around with stuff and simmering things, throwing out what was inedible and delving into the cuisine of indigenous folk, the Celts and Teutons. He wanted a broad picture, a comprehensive, but above all, culinary concept.
So Wiesner today combines consistencies, tastes, states of matter. When cooking he speaks like a perfume-maker, of head, heart and base notes and distills essences like a chemist. In doing so, it is important to him to follow a clear, anthroposophical approach. For him, every detail of a tree is a component of the art of cooking: from the trunk to the bark, the branches, the leaves, to the fruit, the kernel, the stems and seeds. What parts are finally cooked, distilled, steamed, grilled or poached, is the result of his many years of study. Under Wiesner’s strict instructions, 13 employees prepare a six-course menu in the “Rössli”, making it an unforgettable sensory experience. Whoever has been lucky enough to look over his shoulder and watch the expert at work, is enthralled. “Taste this and see how the salt spreads over the tongue.” Wiesner holds out a small container of salt. “It first spreads out in the front on the tip and then goes clear across the tongue, very delicately.” And actually, he is right.
As for the other ingredients, the family man goes for regional goods. Not dairy products from another canton, but from the farmer around the corner. The same goes for the meat, eggs and herbs. Local producers from the UNESCO biosphere reserve of Entlebuch deliver to the “Rössli”. Many things are grown in the garden by his wife and mother-in-law.
Wiesner never gets tired of explaining his concept. On the contrary, the “wizard” or “alchemist” as the media call him, would like to point out never to take things for granted. Whoever is not content with the status quo asks per se “why” and inevitably goes out to find his own answers. There is a great parallel between the chef and the company Silhouette. Silhouette managed to rethink the structure of eyewear, developing a completely new, minimalistic concept. Because of doing away with screws and hinges and with the resulting minimal weight, NASA selected Silhouette ten years ago as standard eyewear for its astronauts. Hardly any other eyewear has been represented in space as often as Silhouette. Wiesner compares the clarity and lightness that he feels in cooking with Silhouette eyewear. “Having no boundaries is extremely important to me. That is conveyed also in this eyewear by its rimlessness. It is without boundaries and I am reflected through it.”
He still sees himself as a chef, even when combining the knowledge of perfume-making, astrology, mathematics, music, biology and poetry in his cuisine. To protect old values and still create new ones, is something very dear to the heart of the Swiss chef. “In a menu, you can include the planets, for example, and thus the ideas of the astrologists and Doctor Paracelsus. The moon and its white colour stand for the element silver and for purification. Mars would be iron, and so on. With this information and these ideas, you can cook, introduce something alkaline, combine colours…,” Wiesner’s eyes light up. That his menus are not meant to be dished out on plain porcelain plates is clear. The chef needs about a month until the menu concept is perfected, from the raw ingredients to the art of presentation. On the side, Wiesner is working on a completely different project: In the future, he would like to work with other top chefs and experts in teaching a new generation of chefs by opening a professional institute. The plans are already drawn up and he recently received the green light from the authorities.
It was in the legendary campaign “Think different” in 1997 that Steve Jobs declared to all the free spirits of this world: “The ones who think they are crazy enough to change the world, are the ones who do.” There is hardly a more fitting description for the chef from Entlebuch.